A lot of people who are planning a short trip to Rome ask if it is possible to visit the Colosseum and Vatican in one day. I am a big advocate for spending more time in Rome so you can discover the city, but I understand that time constraints (and a shortage of vacation days) exist. Yes, you can visit the Vatican and the Colosseum on the same day, but I don’t recommend it as a first choice.
First, I’ll give the reasons why I suggest different days but then I will tell you how to have the best experience if it really does need to be in a single day.
It is better to visit Rome’s two most popular sites on two different days. One reason is location. Rome is compact but these two landmarks are located on opposites sides of the city. The Colosseum and the Vatican are also on different metro lines, in case you plan on using public transportation.
The second, and most important reason, is because there is simply so much to see and so many people that you have to contend with to see it all. Remember that the Colosseum is not just a monumental amphitheater. The same archaeological site also includes the Roman Forum (the political heart of Ancient Rome) and Palatine Hill. Yes, you can visit the inside of the Colosseum quickly if you have skip the line tickets, but you won’t be able to make the most of the Forum or Palatine Hill without a guide. These tours last around three hours which means being on your feet for that time.
The Colosseum was the most visited attraction in Europe in 2019. 7 million people come to see the monument annually. Even if you have reserved tickets, only 3,000 people are allowed inside at any one time, so you may end up waiting. Once inside, you will have to factor in the slow speed of the crowd. But yes – it is worth going inside!
Now to the Vatican. The Vatican Museums have one of the most important collections in the world. The full museums are absolutely massive and there is an overwhelming amount to see. You must go into the museums to visit the Sistine Chapel, for example. The chapel is at the end of the museums, essentially right before the exit.
A trip to see even the highlights of the Vatican Museums can be tiring. There are large crowds and numerous masterpieces. The process of getting into the museums (waiting in line, security) can also be slow. In total, there are 8 miles of museum corridors. You won’t walk them all but I mention it simply to give you an idea of the extent of the attraction. If you love art, you’ll want to spend a long time here. However, you can visit “quickly” in about 2.5 hours.
How to Visit the Colosseum and the Vatican in One Day
The best way to fit two major things to see into a single day is to spread out the actual hours you will be in each as much as possible. Be sure to factor in a long break where you can sit for lunch or aperitivo to give your legs (and your over-stimulated brains) a little rest. That means during one site in the morning and one in the evening. If you want to get an early site, take a tour to visit the Vatican before it opens to the public. These early morning tours mean smaller crowds and a smoother experience inside the museums and Sistine Chapel.
The Colosseum and the Vatican also both have nighttime hours. The Vatican is open on Friday nights for about half the year. I highly recommend visiting during these late hours when the crowds are more restricted.
You can visit the Colosseum at night for most of the year as well. It is definitely a different experience to be inside after dark, but worth it. You’ll lose out on blue sky photo opportunities but won’t have to deal with as many people. You’ll also miss the worst of the summer heat, depending on when you are coming.
Even if you don’t/can’t visit at night, leave as many hours in between the two landmarks as possible.
Skip the Line Tickets
You do not have time to risk waiting in line if you want to see the Vatican and the Colosseum on the same day.
Regardless of what time of day you decide to visit you really need to book skip the line tickets. Skip the line Vatican tickets tend to be most popular in the mornings. The crowd calms down a bit after lunch. You need at least 2 hours inside the museums to even walk through and see the most important parts of the collection. Don’t worry, you can’t miss the Sistine Chapel – it is on your way out. Most people spend closer to 3 or 3.5 hours here.
Keep in mind that St. Peter’s Basilica has a different entrance. The only way to skip the line there is to pay a fee (entrance is normally free) or take a tour. Here’s a complete guide on how to avoid waiting at St. Peter’s.
It is also important to purchase skip the line tickets to the Colosseum. The Colosseum recently changed its tickets and pricing but it is still possible to purchase online 60 days before your visit. Consider if you want to also visit the Palatine Hill when buying tickets because it is no longer true that every ticket grants access to the three sites (Colosseo, Forum, Palatine). Skip the line tickets give you a specific entrance time but you have to allow time for security, as well. You need at least an hour for the whole thing if you are only running through.
To get between the Colosseum and the Vatican, give yourself an hour. A taxi is the fastest way and will only take 15 minutes or so. If you are taking the bus or metro, however, you will need to find the correct stops or switch between lines. This takes more time.
Yes, you can walk but the sites are over 2.5 miles (more than 4 km) apart. You will be on your feet so much to see the monument and museum that it is not worth the hour-long trek between them.
Best Colosseum and Vatican Tours in One Day
You can absolutely book separate tours for the Colosseum and the Vatican. In fact, taking a great early morning Vatican tour might be the best way to squeeze everything in. Going with a legit Vatican tour is also the only way that you can move from the museums directly into St. Peter’s Basilica without having to wait in line again.
Colosseum tours are also offered at most hours of the day, so you can work it around your Vatican tour times. Again, be sure to leave a break in between so you can eat, rest, and decompress.
If you want to see most of Rome in a single day, then you can also consider an all-inclusive tour to see both attractions plus the center of the city. In that case, all of your tickets will be purchased and arrangements made so there is no waiting in line. These tours include transportation and an incredibly knowledgeable guide to help you make the most of your time.
How to Prioritize
If you have to pick just one, I recommend seeing the Colosseum from the outside and actually going into the Vatican. The Colosseum is such a rich historical site, but I have heard people say that they were disappointed by the inside to the point of feeling it was overrated. (I’m not one of them – I think it is worth it to go inside).
The Vatican, however, is one that you have to see to believe. It gets millions of visitors a year because of its art and artifacts. Having a tour guide or an audio guide will help you better appreciate what you are looking at, as well.
Want to learn more about visiting the Eternal City in a short amount of time? Here’s my guide to spending 24 hours in Rome.